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Robert A. Rowe, 84, made thousands of dolls to offer hope to cancer patients

April 8, 1933 – March 25, 2018

Bob Rowe began making small stuffed dolls to provide hope and encouragement to cancer patients as he was recovering from stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1999.

For 18 years, using four sewing machines, he spent up to six hours a day creating the dolls and their dresses.

He embroidered a face on each doll by hand and used Velcro to attach hair made of yarn. He delivered as many as 25 dolls a week to local medical offices, where they were given away for free.

A label on the back of each doll included his name, the year it was made and a quotation from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

“That’s what I based my faith on when I went through lymphoma cancer,” he told WGRZ-TV reporter Melissa Holmes, who interviewed him for a “Good Neighbor” feature in 2016. “And that’s why that verse is on there.”

Mr. Rowe died March 25 in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga. He was 84.

He told WGRZ-TV that he thought he had made about 800 dolls, but lost count.

“It was closer to 3,000,” his son, Daryl, said. “It was all at his own expense. He never took any money. That became his life’s work. He would say, ‘I get paid when I see the smile on their face.’”

Mr. Rowe was unable to continue making dolls after suffering a stroke about a year ago. By that time, however, he had taught a group of seniors at the Schiller Park Senior Center how to create them. The center is continuing to produce and distribute the dolls.

Born in Buffalo, Robert A. Rowe was a 1948 graduate of Emerson Vocational High School. He served in the Army as a motor pool mechanic in Korea after the Armistice.

He worked for several years for Twin Industries, then became a pipe and valve repairman for Stritt & Priebe in Buffalo in 1963. He retired in 1996.

“He was as blue collar as they come,” his son said. “He had the strongest hands you could imagine.”

Although sewing was an unlikely hobby for him to adopt, he pursued it wholeheartedly. In addition to dolls for cancer patients, he made stuffed animals, dresses for American Girl dolls, sock monkeys and gift packages for newborn babies.

“He made friends everywhere,” his son said. “In a restaurant, he would go up to someone with kids and say, ‘Is it OK if I give them this stuffed animal?’”

He was active in the Christian Service Brigade, serving as chief ranger in the Thursday Night Stockade at Randall Baptist Church in Amherst.

His wife of 53 years, the former Dorothy Lipsius, who was secretary at Randall Baptist Church, died in 2007.

Survivors include another son, David; a brother, Dr. John “Jack”; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 7, in Cleveland Drive Presbyterian Church, 735 Cleveland Drive, Cheektowaga.

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